Hanmoto

•September 22, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There is a really tough restaurant to find in the Ossington area tucker away behind Churchill bar, Hanmoto. They have a great cocktail menu with refreshing and interesting drinks like the Iggy Smalls, a gin based drink with grapefruit, citrus, and a hint of campari. It also looks really girly.

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First out were the Moto eggs, with Ikaru, chicken skin, nori powder, and pickled chillies. These bite-sized morsels were rich in flavor, had a soft texture which was nicely balanced by the crispy chicken skin. The sweet sauce on top balanced the saltiness of the nori powder and fish eggs. The pickled chillies also added additional depth that puts this dish over the top.

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Next was the salmon aburi, torched salmon on sushi rice, tobiko, scallions which are wrapped in seaweed. This dish is awesome! Fresh fish with a nice oily flavor as a result of the torching (brings out the cooked flavor), and complimented by the mix of other ingredients. The saltiness of the nori wrapped brings everything together into the perfect bite.

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Next the Nasu dengaku – eggplant. The fried beets and miso hollandaise elevate the dish and each bite is a nice treat. It’s not light, but not heavy. Lots of flavor that hits you from a bunch of different angles.

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Next the Katsu bun, a fried, breaded pork belly with a soy remoulade on a coco bun. It was hot and crispy with juicy pork and a sweet sauce on a nice light, fluffy bun. I would eat this for lunch every week if it were close to the office.

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Last was the Dyno wing, which is basically a pork and bacon dumpling stuffed into a hallowed out chicken wing. It’s a little on the salty side but full of meaty goodness.

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Hanmoto is pretty amazing! They don’t take reservations, it’s a tiny and cramped space, and you are surrounded by hipsters, but the food it worth it!

https://www.instagram.com/hanm0t0/

Provence – A Taste of the Pacific (Vancouver)

•September 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Trips to Vancouver are always a little overindulgent.  A little too much sitting around on the couch, a little too much wine, a little too much cheese and a little too much food.  On my last trip, my parent’s took me to one of their usual haunts that serves up some pretty good seafood, Provence.  The service is very welcoming and the dining area is dim with a classy but not overly pretentious kind of feel.  To start, the amouse bouche was a tuna tartar with a squid ink jelly.

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A very interesting and refreshing dish.  The tuna was excellent and the squid ink, which is a little thick, added an interesting texture and flavor.  Next, we shared the steamed mussels in a white wine garlic sauce.

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Compared to Toronto mussels in Vancouver or GIANT!  Meaty, fresh and complimented well by the nice light white wine sauce.  I was expecting something a little creamier and heavier but this was very nice.  I think anything heavier would have been too much.  Next, we tried the safron risotto balls with mozzarella and a sweet tomato sauce.

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Really how can you go wrong with deep fried cheese and rissota balls.  Mixed with the tomato sauce, this was an excellent dish.  Perfect balance of textures, flavors and temperatures.  It’s a pretty rich dish which was a contrast to the mussels.  Next we shared the Merguez, spicy lamb sausages with fennel in tomato sauce.

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At first you don’t taste the heat of the sausages but then it hits you.  This dish has some kick right around the third bite.  Excellent tomato sauce and very interesting and very tasty sausage.  My father had the Fish special, cod with prawns over cannelloni in a butter sauce.

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He seemed to enjoy it.  Cod is always a nice fish to eat especially when it’s really fresh like in Vancouver.  He didn’t finish the cannelloni but I tried some of the leftovers after and thought it as pretty good.  I always find colored pastas always have an interesting flavor.  My mother had the Prawns Provencal, wild pacific prawns, garlic, parsley, brandy, butter sauce, seven grain rice and zucchini spaghetti.

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Like the mussels, the prawns were big.  They are very generous with the portions.  My mother said she liked the dish.  I could smell the garlic and butter from my seat.  It smelled delicious.  I had the Seafood platter, 1/2 lobster, prawns, scallops, mussels, clams, a tuna steak, cod, sauteed vegetables and seven grain rice.

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The lobster was a little disappointing.  A little rubbery, perhaps a little overcooked.  The clams and mussels were similar to the starters and were impressive, not only in size but in taste.  The tuna steak was good, heavy but good.  I think I would have preferred it a little less cooked through but it was still good.  The cod was very nice.  Soft, buttery, delicious.  The scallops were a little overdone as well but quite flavorful and the prawns had a nice bounce to them.  For dessert, we shared the Lemon Tart with hazzelnut brittle and whipped cream.

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It was the perfect way to end the meal.  Sweetness mixed with lemon.  The dessert was nice and light.  For more added sweetness you could always just rub the tart in the sugary syrup or the powdered sugar.  The nuts are also a nice touch too.  All together, great dessert.

I don’t eat as much seafood as I would like on a regular basis.  One, I’m not that good at cooking it and two, it’s tough find places that serve up good seafood in Toronto without having to give a limb up.  Vancouver, good seafood places seem to be everywhere, even just down the street from my parents’ place (or maybe they just lucked out).  Well, I guess I’ll have to keep asking around as I eat my way through Toronto.  Traveling across the country doesn’t seem like a viable option when I need a seafood fix.

http://www.provencemarinaside.ca/

Kaji

•September 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I heard about a place in Toronto that imports fresh fish from Japan daily. Not sure if its true, but I thought I would try it out. Sushi Kaji is a bit of a trek from downtown but is definitely a gem on the west end. And you know what goes well with sushi? Beer!

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First course was the Kuzu cake stuff with tomato with plum sauce. Fresh, cool and refreshing, and a light sweetness. Off to a good start.

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Next was the Conch clam and mango sunomono. Nice, salty clam and beautifully plated. The mango is a nice touch to balance out the saltiness.

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There were two sashimi courses. The first, raw tuna in sauce. The sauce was a little oily but very rich in flavor. I love the combination with the tuna. There is a bit of salt, sweet, and umami!

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Then came the more tradition sashimi course: trout, bass, lobster, octopus, and tuna over a wakame salad. Again, super fresh, beautiful texture, lovely dish!

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Next was the first cooked course, sauteed suzuki fish with burdock root soup. The fish melted in your mouth. The miso broth is a lovely compliment which has been duplicated throughout the city. I love me some miso cod!

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Next was the deep fried fish cake wrapped with leek onion.  On the side was an additional shrimp roll. I’m not a huge fan of fish cakes but this one was super tasty! And the shrimp was great! Light, bouncy, and sweet!

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Next, the grilled matsu fish, Saikyo style.  There were two potato croquettes with two sauces and grilled octopus with a fried cake. Soft, melt in your mouth fish, crispy croquettes was a nice contrast in texture and the octopus was perfectly cooked. The sauces added a richness and sweetness that brought everything together.

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Now the sushi courses. The first was eel, with “unagi sauce”. Nicely torched with a sweet sauce. Perfect! One of the best pieces of eel I’ve had in the city.

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Next up, Scallops! This may have been the first time I’ve had raw scallops! Soft texture, and lightly torched to bring out a nice buttery cooked flavor!

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Next was the trout. Super fresh, great texture, good rice to fish ratio. Awesome!

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This may have been the first time I’ve had lobster sushi! Although I’m pretty sure this was poached and not raw. It was fresh, light, buttery, sweet with a nice bounce! (I have a good friend who has described shrimp and lobster and being bouncy which really is the perfect description….I’m sure you know what I’m talking about).

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Then the mystery fish. Not sure what this was because they said it really quickly and possibly in Japanese but it was light and delicious (fluke maybe?)!

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The the classic salmon. Nothing to write home about but I feel like it just has to be in the mix. Freshness is key with salmon and this is on point!

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Another classic, tuna! And it’s tuna belly! Fresh, fatty, rich and awesome!

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Not sure where this came from but it was actually an awesome touch. A nice fresh breakup of the meal with a light Cucumber roll.

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Then the Octopus. Interesting texture…I like it….it’s different….tastes different than cooked octopus. Hard to describe. Not as rich but still octopus-y. (Bond movie comes to mind….bad joke).

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The last of the dinner course was an udon soup. Perfectly cooked noodles, light and slippery! The broth was nice and light but perfectly balanced with the flavor of the noodle. I find with udon soups you either taste too much noodle or too much broth. This balances both nicely.

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Next the dessert courses. Dessert tea came out first! Refreshing and nice.

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Next was the Yuzu shaved ice with a green tea macaroon. This was my favorite dessert of the group! The macaroon won’t rival the fancy french bakeries in town but where else can you get a green tea flavored one?

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Last was the fruit jello with red beans and a macaroon. I’m not the biggest fan of red bean but the fruit jello brought me back to my childhood.

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The prix fix meal is pretty pricey but it was awesome! The sushi is fresh, the cooked food is perfectly executed and well balanced, and the dessert is great! Overall, a fantastic meal if you are looking for a place to indulge. Some will say it is the best sushi place in the city. There are a lot of places that will give it a run for its money, but it is definitely among the top!

http://www.sushikaji.com/top.html

Chicago Deep Dish (Chicago)

•August 31, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been going to Chicago at least once a year for the past few years and have been able to indulge in one of my favorite things, deep dish pizza. Growing up in Calgary, we had “Chicago Deep Dish Pizza”, but it really wasn’t the same thing. Don’t get me wrong, it was still delicious (can you really go wrong with copious amounts of cheese, meat, and fresh veg over nicely toasted pizza bread?) but REAL Chicago deep dish is something special. On a trip several years ago I went to Pizzeria Uno where we ordered the Numero Uno, sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, sauce and cheese.

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It’s awesome! So many flavors! Rich tomatoey goodness, so much cheese that it streches all over the place (in a good way), wonderfully salty meat, and fresh veg! The crust is awesome, thick and buttery and able to hold the ridiculous amounts of toppings.

On another trip I tried Lou Manalti’s. We went with the Chicago classic: sausage, tomato sauce and extra cheese. We also added onions and mushrooms.

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The crust is a little thinner and crack-like but still has a buttery taste and manages to hold the crazy amount of toppings. This was awesome! Nicely spiced lean sausage, fresh veg and a rich tomato sauce. And again, sooo much cheese. Lou’s also does delivery (I was working all night in my hotel room and they happily delivered).

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Here is the box and it travels surprisingly well!

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Even with delivery, it’s the best!

On another trip I tried Gino’s east. I went with the Gino’s Supreme: Italian sausage, green peppers, onions and mushrooms.

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It’s pretty amazing! Rich sauce, nice meaty sausage, fresh veg and tons of cheese. The crust is a little different. Thick and almost corn meal based. A little flakier and more “pie”-like. Quite good but it would depend on preference. I like all pizza so I thought it was awesome! Here is the full pie.

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It comes out super fresh and melty cheese-y. It’s awesome! While at the convention centre there is a outlet for Connie’s pizza.

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The convention centre during the conference have a place called Connie’s. It’s not as good as the others but definitely hits the spot. This pizza hits the main points with buttery crust, lots of cheese, and meaty sausage.

Then i went back to Giordano’s. This feels like a bit of a throwback but my first deep dish experience when I was stranded in Chicago after missing a flight. Of all the Chicago places, this one has the most cheese, by far! The crust is buttery but also the thickest and the ingredients are great. Pretty awesome!

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Overall, all Chicago deep dish is amazing! Some people find it overwhelming. It’s a lot of flavor, a lot of cheese, a lot of butter (in the crust), and tons of meat and veg. For me, I love it! I love all pizza! You can’t compare thin crust with deep dish, they are just different beasts. So to say Chicago is better than New York or Italy, can’t be done, it’s just different. Deep dish is its own special thing and you gotta love it for what it is. And if you love rich food with lots of cheese, all these incarnations are where you want to be.

https://www.unos.com/

https://www.loumalnatis.com/

http://www.ginoseast.com/

https://www.conniespizza.com/

https://giordanos.com/

Livestock Tavern (Hawaii)

•August 24, 2017 • Leave a Comment

In an unassuming part of China town in Honolulu, there is this awesome place that is very meat-centric, and it is glorious! We went for lunch and tried almost all the sandwiches. We had the grilled octopus with capers, artichoke, olives and a red pepper sauce. It was excellent. The sauce was rich but the octopus was light with a nice texture. Not chewy or rubbery, but soft and smooth. And the sauce, rich and full of flavor. Nicely spiced and a perfect compliment to the octopus. We also had the tuna spread. It was topped with smoked trout roe and mixed with a horseradish cream. Spread on the lightly toasted and charred bread, lovely. Cool, refreshing tuna, slightly sweet but juicy roe with a creamy base…awesome. The horseradish is really understated so if you are expecting a big kick, you won’t get it but it adds a nice background flavor which I think is for the best since it doesn’t overpower the taste of the seafood.

My dad and cousin-in-law ordered the Lobster roll.

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Nice and chewy challah-like roll, sweet lobster and creamy mayo. A solid lobster roll! It terms of the amount of lobster meat, maybe half to 3/4 of a tail? It’s no Neptune’s in Boston but still solid in terms of flavor. My mom ordered the Lamb BLT with avocado, lettuce, tomato, and lamb bacon.

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The picture doesn’t really do it justice since you can’t really see the ingredients. The lamb was excellent. Nicely seasoned, but I wish there was more of it. My aunt and cousin had the Fried chicken sandwich.

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I didn’t taste it myself but it looked juicy, crisp on the outside and is nicely paired with pickles and slaw. Plus the bread, if it’s the same one I had with my burger, it’s awesome! My uncle had the Beef tongue sandwich.

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My cousin had warned us that it can be a little “hit or miss”. The beef had a lot of flavor but wasn’t as tender as I would hope. I would imagine on other occasions it would hold the same flavor but with softer meat. The bread is perfect for the au jus. This is like an upgraded beef dip with the provolone adding a nice sharpness to the whole bite.

Now, the show-stopper, The Burger! This is one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten in my life. And trust me when I say I’ve eaten a lot of burgers. Bacon onion marmalade, gruyere cheese, fresh tomato on a brioche. It was beefy with the huge, perfectly cooked, wonderfully juicy, perfectly charred. The onions added a savory, sweetness that I was lost for words describing. The gruyere added a salty, nuttiness and a smooth creamy texture. And the bun, perfect. There were a lot of lovely flavors but not too many to overpower or confuse you. It was balanced, rich, and one of the most tasty creations I’ve ever eaten.

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http://livestocktavern.com/

Hawaiian Classics

•August 17, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Whenever I go to visit family in Hawaii I always indulge in a few local favorties. The first is Poke from the grocery store. We usually get our fix at Foodland but really you can find it everywhere. I here the Costco incarnation is quite good.

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Fresh, flavorful, and incredible value. Half a pound for $6. Next on the list is Leonard’s Bakery (I had to settle for the food truck in Pearl City on tis trip) and Giovanni’s Shrimp Truck on the North Shore.

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I’ve made malasadas at a charity event in Hawaii but I could never some close to matching these. Hot, sugery, doughy goodness. They are light, fluffy but still substantial enough that you only need a couple to reach satisfaction…or three or four (because they taste so good and I’m just being indulgent).

The shrimp truck on the North shore always has a long line and for a good reason. It’s fresh, hot and awesome! This may be some of the best shrimp you will ever have. There is the scampi, which is loaded with garlicky goodness and the spicy which packs a LOT of heat. Be careful. Some people get the hot sauce on the side but I just let them load it on. Then my mouth is numb for about an hour. Totally worth it! Lastly is Spam from Zippy’s, Loco moco from the airport (or really anywhere) and mana pua from Chun Wah Kam.

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Zippy’s is a staple in Hawaii. Fried chicken, teri beef, it’s all good! Spam musubi was a staple growing up and I even make it at home whenever I miss Hawaii. A little bit of furikake spice, salty spam wrapped in seaweed, a nice snack on the go. Loco moco I’ve only ever had as a breakfast dish. It’s basically a hamburger patty topped with egg, over rice and smothered with gravy. Hawaiian “benny” perhaps? It’s AMAZING! This one came with a side of mac salad. Creamy goodness to clogs the arteries even more than the main dish. Manapua is basically a BBQ pork bun but this place fills it with everything from pork to chicken to curry. Again, classic goodness, great snack, or have two or three…maybe four or five for a gluttonous meal. The eats in Hawaii are truly awesome! It’s comfort food, not fine dining, but the rich classic flavors always hit the spot for me.

https://www.leonardshawaii.com/home/

http://www.giovannisshrimptruck.com/

http://www.chunwahkam.com/

http://zippys.com/

Neptune Oyster (Boston)

•August 11, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was in Boston on business this week and it reminded me of one of the best meals I’ve had. On a previous trip to Boston, a friend of our’s who lives there recommended Neptune Oyster.

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We arrived on an early morning flight and made it to the restaurant about half an hour before it opened and there was already a line. Luckily we made it in for the first sitting but got the last table. Of course being in an oyster bar, it seemed logical to try the oysters!

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We tried a combination of their daily west coast and east coast oysters. I love the briny flavors and slimy texture. They are fresh, big and delicious! But what this place is famous for is their lobster roll.

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They don’t skimp on the fresh, sweet and massive chunks of lobster. The roll is warm, lightly buttered, soft and squishy… perfect with the lobster meat. I walked past the kitchen and got a glimpse into how they prepared the lobster. All I saw was them putting a huge brick of butter into a frying pan and tossing the lobster meat in the air. It was beautiful! To date, this is probably the best lobster roll I’ve ever had! Definitely need to make a trip back!

http://www.neptuneoyster.com/

Hokkaido Ramen (Sapporo, Japan)

•August 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So on a recent trip to Japan, I found out that the birthplace of ramen is in Sapporo, Japan. In the heart of Sapporo there is a place called Ramen Alley. It’s honestly a little hard to find but when you find it, your nostrils are filled with the smell of delicious broth, bubbling noodles, and cooked meat.

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We went to one of the places in the alley. I don’t know any of the names but this place could only fit 8 people, like most of the places, and a single chef prepares all the bowls to perfection.

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Below is the miso ramen, something our guide said everyone has to try since this is the original place for miso ramen.

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Rich broth, perfectly cooked noodles, balanced by ground pork, egg, and green onions. I normally don’t drink all the broth but it was so tasty I couldn’t help myself.

http://www.best-of-sapporo-japan.com/japanese-noodles.html

We travelled to Otaru and found a packed ramen shop for lunch.

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The miso ramen at this place was excellent. The broth was even richer than ramen alley, but the noodles were probably more spaghetti like. I prefer the ramen alley version but this was still great!

http://www15.plala.or.jp/shodai/

The last bowl I had was at the airport.

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This was the lightest miso broth but still more flavorful than most places in North America. The extras are welcome additions. The noodles are excellent. Again, not as perfect as ramen alley but maybe better than the ones in Otaru. Overall, ramen in Sapporo/Otaru is awesome!

http://www.new-chitose-airport.jp/en/spend/shop/s138.html

Hanamaru (Sapporo, Japan)

•August 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I was recently in Japan where the food is amazing! While in Sapporo, our guide told us that some of the best sushi in town was at a place in the Sapporo train station called Hanamaru. She warned us there would be a long line and well….see below.

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The wait time was about an hour but the system inside is very efficient and the turnover is quite fast. The first to come off the conveyer belt was salmon, tuna, and the scallop roll.

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I figure we would start off with the basics like salmon and tuna. BEST SUSHI I’VE EVER HAD! How is it possible that it is this much better than every other place?! Japan must hoard the good fish. Next we pulled off a cooked item because you know, fried chicken. Here is the HUGE morsels of Chicken Kaarage.

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Hot, crunchy, and insanely juicy! We saw the next dish pass by a couple times and I won’t lie, I pulled it off a couple times because after the first bite I had to have more. This was one of my favorite dishes: Aburi salmon.

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I don’t know what it is about torched sushi that I love. I love the freshness of raw sushi but the heat must bring out more flavor additional flavors. Here is the Aburi fluke, which I also couldn’t help pulling off numerous times.

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We also tried the Inari, sushi rice wrapped in deep fried tofu wrap.

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Nothing to write home about, but solid. Next that came off the belt was the O-toro, because you can’t ever pass up fatty tuna belly!

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So rich. So awesome! And then the medium fat tuna came by.

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Almost as rich but not as oily and fatty. Both are awesome! If I had a bigger belly, I wouldn’t have stopped. We also saw a scallop roll by so…why not!

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Best raw scallop I’ve ever had. Next the Mackeral.

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So fresh! So good. You are getting the general message. Another aburi fish came by. Not sure what it was but it was delicious.

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The Chef’s are masters at the craft. I’ve never seen sushi chefs throw the rice balls together with such expertise. I watched them plate 6 plates in less than 30 seconds. It was awesome and we had a front row seat!

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There is constantly good stuff passing by on the belt which makes overeating an easy endeavor. We managed to keep it a little under control but all left full.

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To date, this is the best sushi I’ve had in my life. And what’s crazy, is that we ate enough to fill up 3 people for less than $50! How is that possible?! Best sushi of my life for that cheap! I should move to Japan.

http://www.sushi-hanamaru.com/la_en/

Hot Star Large Fried Chicken

•August 4, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So I’m a big fan of fried chicken in all shapes and forms. In my experience, there are a few factors that weigh into the perfect piece of fried chicken: (1) quality of the meat, (2) quality and spice blend of the breading, and (3) freshness from the fryer. The problem with most fast food places is the freshness from the fryer and the low quality meat they use. The batter mix, like the Colonel’s secret recipe or Popeye’s spice blend, is excellent but it’s just a matter of getting the other two factors right. Enter a Taiwanese fried chicken joint, Hot Star Large Fried Chicken, a popular chain in Taiwan that has recently expanded into the Toronto market.

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The white meat chicken breasts are pounded into a flat filet, breaded, fried, and then seasoned to perfection…all cooked to order which hits the freshness “fryer to mouth” criteria in spades. The Original large fried chicken with spicy seasoning is the signature dish.

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Crispy, hot, juicy and loaded with flavor (I think there is fried garlic in the breading) with some nice spice. The heat builds as you work your way through the meal. It starts off mild, but builds to a decent level of heat once you hit the bone near the bottom of the filet. It’s also huge. The size of most people’s face. It’s juicier than most fried chickens you’ll eat, largely due to the freshness, but doesn’t taste greasy like a lot of fried chicken right out of the fryer. I’ve also had it with the seaweed seasoning which is nice but I prefer the heat. For people who can’t handle the heat, I would recommend the salt and pepper or the seaweed which are both lovely. Another option aside from the original signature blend is the Large fried chicken with specialty BBQ sauce.

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Again, it’s fresh and juicy. The sauce adds a nice, sweet BBQ flavor. The breading absorbs the BBQ sauce quickly so it’s not as crispy but the saucy flavor is a nice change. It’s like wanting saucy chicken wings versus dry wings. It’s a matter of preference. I like both so it would depend on my mood. Next is the Crispy large fried chicken.

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This has an amazing crunch to it! The breading is slightly thicker than the original but wow, again driven by the freshness from the fryer, a wicked crunch! The spice blend adheres well and the chicken is as juicy as the other incarnations. I figure since they do fried food well, the Fries and Chicken Popcorn are probably a good bet.

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The fries are crisp, and meaty (or potatoey). The chicken popcorn are nicely fried morsels of mostly dark meat chicken. The breading is crisp, the spice blend is as good as the other larger pieces, and the meat is juicy. The drinks on the menu are interesting. First is the Passion fruit soda.

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Sweet but not too sweet. I’m told not to shake it because I’m sure the gas would blow the top off. The passion fruit is tasty however a little too diluted with the soda. The Green apple yogurt is not diluted at all.

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Super tasty. I wouldn’t say it’s thick like a milkshake but it doesn’t have a water-like consistency (definitely thicker). Rich, sweet and sour apple flavor. I like it! The Sunrise Strawberry Soda is more like the passion fruit soda.

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It has a nice flavor I just wish there was more of it. A little too diluted and you can’t shake it because it might blow up the served package.

Overall, Hot Star Large Fried Chicken serves up some wicked hot (fresh), tasty fried chicken! When I judge by my three criteria, it hits all three points. Fresh, white meat chicken and while the bone is annoying to work around near the end, it also adds flavor! The batter and the spice blend is a “pick your own adventure” type of situation which works on all levels. The Original is crisp and delicious, the BBQ sauced is saucy but the fried nature still holds up, and the crispy is just super crispy while still being able to hold the spice. And the sides and yogurt based drinks are solid. I’ve never been to Taiwan, but if this is how they do friend chicken, I may need to make a trip soon!

http://www.hot-star.ca/